Video game development

Video game development

Game development is the software development process by which a video game is developed. Development is undertaken by a game developer, which may range from a single person to a large business. Mainstream games are normally funded by a publisher and take several years to develop.[citation needed] Indie games can take less time and can be produced cheaply by individuals and small developers. The indie game industry has seen a rise in recent years with the growth of new online distribution systems and the mobile game market.

The first video games were developed in 1960s, but required mainframe computers and were not available to general public. Commercial game development began in 1970s with the advent of first generation video game consoles and home computers. Due to low costs and low capabilities of computers, a lone programmer could develop a full game. However, approaching the 21st century, ever-increasing computer processing power and heightened consumer expectations made it impossible for a single developer to produce a mainstream game. The average price of game production slowly rose from US$1M–4M in 2000 to over 5M in 2006 to over 20M in 2010.

Mainstream games are generally developed in phases. First, in pre-production, pitches, prototypes, and game design documents are written. If the idea is approved and the developer receives funding, a full-scale development begins. This usually involves a 20–100 man team of various responsibilities, such as designers, artists, programmers, testers, etc. The games go through development, alpha, and beta stages until finally being released. Modern games are advertised, marketed, and showcased at trade show demos. Even so, many games do not turn a profit.


Game development is the software development process by which a video game is produced.[1] Games are developed as a creative outlet[2] and to generate profit.[3] Development is normally funded by a publisher.[4] Well-made games bring profit more readily.[5] However, it is important to estimate a game's financial requirements,[6] such as development costs of individual features.[7] Often game projects developed with "heart and soul" turn no profit.[8] Failing to provide clear implications of game's expectations may result in exceeding allocated budget.[6] In fact, the majority of commercial games do not produce profit.[9][r 1] Developers such as BioWare, Blizzard Entertainment, and id Software are renowned for releasing quality games on completion, rather than being constrained by financial limitations.[10] However, most developers cannot afford changing development schedule and require estimating their capabilities with available resources before production.[8]

The game industry requires innovations, as publishers cannot profit from constant release of sequels and imitations.[11] Every year new independent development companies open and some manage to develop hit titles. Similarly, many developers close down because they cannot find a publishing contract or their production is not profitable.[12] It is difficult to start a new company due to high initial investment required.[13] Nevertheless, growth of casual and mobile game market has allowed developers with smaller teams to enter the market. Once the companies become financially stable, they may expand to develop larger games.[12] Most developers start small and gradually expand their business.[13] A developer receiving profit from a successful title may store up a capital to expand and re-factor their company, as well as tolerate more failed deadlines.[14]

An average development budget for a multiplatform game is US$18-28M, with high-profile games often exceeding more than $40M.[r 2]

In the early era of home computers and video game consoles in the early 1980s, a single programmer could handle almost all the tasks of developing a game — programming, graphical design, sound effects, etc.[15][16][r 3] It could take as little as six weeks to develop a game.[16] However, the high user expectations and requirements[16] of modern commercial games far exceed the capabilities of a single developer and require the splitting of responsibilities.[17] A team of over a hundred people can be employed full-time for a single project.[r 3]

Game development, production, or design is a process that starts from an idea or concept.[18][19][20][21] Often the idea is based on a modification of an existing game concept.[18][22] The game idea may fall within one or several genres.[23] Designers often experiment with different combinations of genres.[23][24] Game designer usually produces initial game proposal document, that contains the concept, gameplay, feature list, setting and story, target audience, requirements and schedule, staff and budget estimates.[25] Different companies have different formal procedures[26] and philosophies[26][27] regarding game design and development. There is no standardized development method; however commonalities exist.[27][28]

Game development is undertaken by a game developer—ranging from an individual to a large company. There can be independent or publisher-owned studios.[29] Independent developers rely on financial support from a game publishers.[30] They usually have to develop a game from concept to prototype without external funding. The formal game proposal is then submitted to publishers, who may finance the game development from several months to years. The publisher would retain exclusive rights to distribute and market the game and would often own the intellectual property for the game franchise.[29] Publisher's company may also own the developer's company,[29][31] or it may have internal development studio(s). Generally the publisher is the one who owns the game's intellectual property.[r 1]

All but the smallest developer companies work on several titles at once. This is necessary because of the time taken between shipping a game and receiving royalty payments, which may be between 6 to 18 months. Small companies may structure contracts, ask for advances on royalties, use shareware distribution, employ part-time workers and use other methods to meet payroll demands.[32]

Console manufacturers, such as Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony, have a standard set of technical requirements that a game must confirm to in order to be approved. Additionally, the game concept must be approved by the manufacturer, who may refuse to approve certain titles.[33]

Most modern games take from one to three years to complete.[citation needed] The length of development is influenced by a number of factors, such as genre, scale, development platform and amount of assets.[citation needed]

Some games can take much longer than the average time frame to complete.[citation needed] An infamous example is 3D Realms' Duke Nukem Forever, announced to be in production in April 1997 and released fourteen years later in June 2011.[r 4] Planning for Maxis' game Spore began in late 1999 and was released nine years later in September 2008.[citation needed] The game Prey was briefly profiled in a 1997 issue of PC Gamer, but was not released until 2006, and only then in highly altered form.

The game revenue from retails is divided among the parties along the distribution chain, such as — developer, publisher, retail, manufacturer and console royalty. Many developers fail to profit from this and go bankrupt.[32] Some developers seek alternative economic models through Internet marketing and distribution channels to improve returns.[34]


The XGS PIC 16-Bit game development board, a game development tool[r 5] similar to those used in the 1990s.

The history of game making begins with the development of the first video games, although which video game is the first depends on the definition of video game. The first games created had little entertainment value, and their development focus was separate from user experience—in fact, these games required mainframe computers to play them.[35] OXO, written by Alexander S. Douglas in 1952, was the first computer game to use a digital display.[17] In 1958, a game called Tennis for Two, which displayed its output on an oscilloscope, was made by Willy Higinbotham, a physicist working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.[36][r 6] In 1961, a mainframe computer game called Spacewar! was developed by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students led by Steve Russell.[36]

The developers of many early games, such as Zork, Baseball, Air Warrior and Adventure, later transitioned their work as products of the early video game industry.[citation needed]

True commercial design and development of games began when first generation consoles were marketed in 1970s. In 1972, the first home console system was released called Magnavox Odyssey, developed by Ralph H. Baer.[r 7] Programmers worked within the big companies to produce games for these devices. The industry did not see huge innovation in game design and large number of consoles had very similar games.[37] At the same time home computers appeared on the market and individual programmers and hobbyist could develop games. This allowed hardware manufacturer and software manufacturers to act separately. A very large amount of games could be produced by single individuals, as games were easy to make because graphical and memory limitation did not allow for much content. Larger companies developed, who focused selected teams to work on a title.[38] Similarly, console manufacturers started to produce consoles that were able to play independently developed games.[39]

With the ever-increasing processing and graphical capabilities of computers and console products, along with an increase in user expectations, game design moved beyond the scope of a single developer to produce a marketable game in a reasonable time.[citation needed] This sparked the beginning of team-based development.[citation needed]

In broad terms, in 1980s pre-production involved sketches and test routines of the only developer. In 1990s pre-production consisted of by large game art previews. In early 2000s pre-production usually produced a playable demo.[40]

In 2000 a 12 to 36 month development project was funded by a publisher for US$1M-3M.[41] Additionally, $250k-1.5M were spent on marketing and sales development.[42]

In 2001 over 3000 games were released for PC; and from about 100 games turning profit only about 50 made significant profit.[41]

In early 2000s it became increasingly common to use middleware game engines, such as, Quake engine or Unreal engine.[43]

In 2005 a mainstream console video game cost from US$3M to $6M to develop. Some games cost as much as $20M to develop.[r 8]

In 2006 the profit from a console game sold at retail was divided among parties of distribution chain as follows: developer (13%), publisher (32%), retail (32%), manufacturer (5%), console royalty (18%).[32] In 2008 a developer would retain around 17% of retail price and around 85% if sold online.[r 1]

The game industry has constantly increased and expanded. The industry revenue has increased at least fivefold since the 1990s. In 2007 the software portion of video game revenue was $9.5 billion, exceeding that of movies industry.[44]

In 2009 games market annual value is estimated between $7–30 billion, depending on which sales figures are included. This is on par with films box office market.[45] A publisher would typically fund an independent developer for $500k-$5M for a development of a title.[29]

In the past several years, many developers opened and many closed down. Each year a number of developers are acquired by larger companies or merge with existing companies. For example, in 2007 Blizzard Entertainment's parent company, Vivendi Games merged with Activision. In 2008 Electronic Arts nearly acquired Take-Two Interactive. In 2009 Midway Games was acquired by Time-Warner and Eidos merged with Square Enix.[46]



Development is overseen by internal and external producers.[47][48] The producer working for the developer is known as the internal producer and manages the development team, schedules, reports progress, hires and assigns staff, and so on.[48][49] The producer working for the publisher is known as the external producer and oversees developer progress and budget.[50] Producer's responsibilities include PR, contract negotiation, liaising between the staff and stakeholders, schedule and budget maintenance, quality assurance, beta test management, and localization.[48][51] This role may also be referred to as project manager, project lead, or director.[48][51]


Developer and publisher are often separate companies.

Development team

Developers can range in size from small groups making casual games to housing hundreds of employees and producing several large titles. [13] Companies divide their subtasks of game's development. Individual job titles may vary; however, roles are the same within the industry.[26] The development team consists of several members.[17] Some members of the team may handle more than one role; similarly more than one task may be handled by the same member.[26] Team size can vary from 20 to 100 or more members, depending on the game's scope. The most represented are artists, followed by programmers, then designers, and finally, audio specialists, with two to three producers in management. These positions are employed full-time. Other positions, such as testers, may be employed only part-time.[52]

A development team includes these roles or disciplines:[26]


A game designer is a person who designs gameplay, conceiving and designing the rules and structure of a game.[53][54][55] Development teams usually have a lead designer who coordinates the work of other designers. He is the main visionary of the game.[56] One of the roles of a designer is being a writer, often employed part-time to conceive game's narrative, dialogue, commentary, cutscene narrative, journals, video game packaging content, hint system, etc.[57][58][59] In larger projects, there are often separate designer for various parts of the game, such as, game mechanics, user interface, characters, dialogue, etc.


A game artist is a visual artist who creates video game art.[60][61] The art production is usually overseen by an art director or art lead, making sure his vision is followed. The art director manages the art team, scheduling and coordinating within the development team.[60]

The artist's job may be 2D oriented or 3D oriented. 2D artists may produce concept art,[62][63] sprites,[64] textures,[65][66] environmental backdrops or terrain images,[62][66] and user interface[64]. 3D artists may produce models or meshes,[67][68] animation,[67] 3D environment,[69] and cinematics.[69] Artists sometimes occupy both roles.


A game programmer is a software engineer who primarily develops video games or related software (such as game development tools). The game's codebase development is handled by programmers.[70][71] There are usually one to several lead programmers,[72] who implement the game's starting codebase and overview future development and programmer allocation on individual modules.

Individual programming disciplines roles include:[70]

  • Physics – the programming of the game engine, including simulating physics, collision, object movement, etc.;
  • AI – producing computer agents using game AI techniques, such as scripting, planning, rule-based decisions, etc.
  • Graphics – the managing of graphical content utilization and memory considerations; the production of graphics engine, integration of models, textures to work along the physics engine.
  • Sound – integration of music, speech, effect sounds into the proper locations and times.
  • Gameplay – implementation of various games rules and features (sometimes called a generalist);
  • Scripting – development and maintenance of high-level command system for various in-game tasks, such as AI, level editor triggers, etc.
  • UI – production of user interface elements, like option menus, HUDs, help and feedback systems, etc.
  • Input processing – processing and compatibility correlation of various input devices, such as keyboard, mouse, gamepad, etc.
  • Network communications – the managing of data inputs and outputs for local and internet gameplay.
  • Game tools – the production of tools to accompany the development of the game, especially for designers and scripters.

Level designer

A level designer is a person who creates levels, challenges or missions for computer and/or video games using a specific set of programs.[73][74] These programs may be commonly available commercial 3D or 2D design programs, or specially designed and tailored level editors made for a specific game.

Level designers work with both incomplete and complete versions of the game. Game programmers usually produce level editors and design tools for the designers to use. This eliminates the need for designers to access or modify game code. Level editors may involve custom high-level scripting languages for interactive environments or AIs. As opposed to the level editing tools sometimes available to the community, level designers often work with placeholders and prototypes aiming for consistency and clear layout before required artwork is completed.

Sound engineer

Sound engineers are technical professionals responsible for sound effects and sound positioning. They sometimes oversee voice acting and other sound asset creation.[75][76] Composers who create a game's musical score also comprise a game's sound team, though often this work is outsourced.


The quality assurance is carried out by game testers. A game tester analyzes video games to document software defects as part of a quality control. Testing is a highly technical field requiring computing expertise, and analytic competence.[66][77]

The testers ensure that the game falls within the proposed design: it both works and is entertaining.[78]This involves testing of all features, compatibility, localization, etc. Although, necessary throughout the whole development process, testing is expensive and is often actively utilized only towards the completion of the project.

Development process

Game development is a software development process, as a video game is software with art, audio, and gameplay. Formal software development methods are often overlooked.[1] Games with poor development methodology are likely to run over budget and time estimates, as well as contain a large number of bugs. Planning is important for individual[9] and group projects alike.[41]

Overall game development is not suited for typical software life cycle methods, such as the waterfall model.[79]

One method employed for game development is agile development.[80] It is based on iterative prototyping, a subset of software prototyping.[81] Agile development depends on feedback and refinement of game's iterations with gradually increasing feature set.[82] This method is effective because most projects do not start with a clear requirement outline.[80] A popular method of agile software development is Scrum.[83]

Another successful method is Personal Software Process (PSP) requiring additional training for staff to increase awareness of project's planning.[84] This method is more expensive and requires commitment of team members. PSP can be extended to Team Software Process, where the whole team is self-directing.[85]

Game development usually involves an overlap of these methods.[79] For example, asset creation may be done via waterfall model, because requirements and specification are clear, [86] but gameplay design might be done using iterative prototyping.[86]

Development of a commercial game usually includes the following stages:[87][88]


Pre-production[89] or design phase[40] is a planning phase of the project focused on idea and concept development and production of initial design documents.[88][90][91][92] The goal of concept development is to produce clear and easy to understand documentation,[88][93] which describes all the tasks, schedules and estimates for the development team[94]. The suite of documents produced in this phase is called production plan.[95] This phase is usually not funded by a publisher,[88] however good publishers may require developers to produce plans during pre-production.[94]

The concept documentation can be separated into three stages or documents—high concept, pitch and concept;[87][96] however, there is no industry standard naming convention, for example, both Bethke (2003) and Bates (2004) refer to pitch document as "game proposal",[89][94] yet Moore, Novak (2010) refers to concept document as "game proposal"[87].

The late stage of pre-production may be also be referred to as proof of concept,[89] or technical review[87] when more detailed game documents are produced.

Publishers have started to expect broader game proposals even featuring playable prototypes.[97]

High concept

High concept is a few sentences long description of a game.[87][89]


A pitch,[87][89] concept document,[87], proposal document,[94] or game proposal[89] is a short summary document intended to present the game's selling points and detail why the game would be profitable to develop.[87][89]

Verbal pitches may be made to management within the developer company, and then presented to publishers.[98] A written document may need to be shown to publishers before funding is approved.[94] A game proposal may undergo one to several green-light meetings with publisher executives who determine if the game is to be developed.[99] The presentation of the project is often given by the game designers.[citation needed] Demos may be created for the pitch; however may be unnecessary for established developers with good track records.[citation needed]

If the developer acts as its own publisher, or both companies are subsidiaries of a single company, then only the upper management needs to give approval.[citation needed]


Concept document,[89], game proposal[87], or game plan[100] is a more detailed document than the pitch document.[87][89][93] This includes all the information produced about the game.[100] This includes the high concept, game's genre, gameplay description, features, setting, story, target audience, hardware platforms, estimated schedule, marketing analysis, team requirements, and risk analysis.[101]

Before an approved design is completed, a skeleton crew of programmers and artists usually begins work.[citation needed] Programmers may develop quick-and-dirty prototypes showcasing one or more features that stakeholders would like to see incorporated in the final product.[citation needed] Artists may develop concept art and asset sketches as a springboard for developing real game assets.[citation needed] Producers may work part-time on the game at this point, scaling up for full time commitment as development progresses.[citation needed] Game producers work during pre-production is related to planning the schedule, budget and estimating tasks with the team.[citation needed] The producer aims to create a solid production plan so that no delays are experienced at the start of the production.[citation needed]

Game design document

Before a full-scale production can begin, the development team produces the first version of a game design document incorporating all or most of the material from the initial pitch.[102][103] The design document describes the game's concept and major gameplay elements in detail. It may also include preliminary sketches of various aspects of the game. Design document is sometimes accompanied by functional prototypes of some sections of the game.[citation needed] Design document remains a living document throughout the development—often changed weekly or even daily.[104]

Compiling a list of game's needs is called "requirement capture".[9]


Placeholder graphics are characteristic of early game prototypes.

Writing prototypes of gameplay ideas and features is an important activity that allows programmers and game designers to experiment with different algorithms and usability scenarios for a game. A great deal of prototyping may take place during pre-production before the design document is complete and may, in fact, help determine what features the design specifies. Prototyping may also take place during active development to test new ideas as the game emerges.

Prototypes are often meant only to act as a proof of concept or to test ideas, by adding, modifying or removing some of the features.[105] Most algorithms and features debuted in a prototype may be ported to the game once they have been completed.

Often prototypes need to be developed quickly with very little time for up-front design. Therefore usually very prolific programmers are called upon to quickly code these testbed tools. RAD tools may be used to aid in the quick development of these programs.

A successful development model is iterative prototyping, where design is refined based on current progress.[106]


Production is the main stage of development, when assets and source code for the game are produced.[107]

Mainstream production is usually defined as the period of time when the project is fully staffed.[citation needed] Programmers write new source code, artists develop game assets, such as, sprites or 3D models. Sound engineers develop sound effects and composers develop music for the game. Level designers create levels, and writers write dialogue for cutscenes and NPCs.[original research?] Game designers continue to develop the game's design throughout production.


Game design is a collaborative[108] process of designing the content and rules of a game,[109] requiring artistic and technical competence as well as writing skills.[110]


All the while, the game designer implements and modifies the game design to reflect the current vision of the game. Features and levels are often removed or added. The art treatment may evolve and the backstory may change. A new platform may be targeted as well as a new demographic. All these changes need to be documented and dispersed to the rest of the team. Most changes occur as updates to the design document.

Level creation

From a time standpoint, the game's first level takes the longest to develop. As level designers and artists use the tools for level building, they request features and changes to the in-house tools that allow for quicker and higher quality development. Newly introduced features may cause old levels to become obsolete, so the levels developed early on may be repeatedly developed and discarded. Because of the dynamic environment of game development, the design of early levels may also change over time. It is not uncommon to spend upwards of twelve months on one level of a game developed over the course of three years. Later levels can be developed much more quickly as the feature set is more complete and the game vision is clearer and more stable.

Art production

Audio production

Game audio may be separated into three categories—sound effects, music, and voice-over.[111]

Sound effect production is the production of sounds by either tweaking a sample to a desired effect or replicating it with real objects.[111] Sound effects are important and impact the game's delivery.[112]

Music may be synthesized or performed live.[113]

There are several ways in which music is presented in a game.

  • Music may be ambient, especially for slow periods of game, where the music aims to reinforce the aesthetic mood and game setting.[114]
  • Music may be triggered by in-game events. For example, in such games as Pac-man or Mario, player picking up power-ups trigerred respective musical scores.[114]
  • Action music, such as chase, battle or hunting sequences is fast-paced, hard-changing score.[115]
  • Menu music, similar to credits music, creates aural impact while relatively little action is taking place.[115]

A game title with 20 hours of single-player gameplay may feature around 60 minutes of music.[115]

Voice-overs and voice acting creates character gameplay interactivity.[111] Voice acting adds personality to the game's characters.[116]


At the end[original research?] of the project quality assurance plays a significant role. Testers start work once anything is playable. This may be one level or subset of the game software that can be used to any reasonable extent. Early on, testing a game occupies a relatively small amount of time. Testers may work on several games at once. As development draws to a close, a single game usually employs many testers full time (and often with overtime). They strive to test new features and regression test existing ones. Testing is vital for modern, complex games as single changes may lead to catastrophic consequences.

At this time features and levels are being finished at the highest rate and there is more new material to be tested than during any other time in the project. Testers need to carry out regression testing to make sure that features that have been in place for months still operate correctly. Regression testing is one of the vital tasks required for effective software development. As new features are added, subtle changes to the codebase can produce unexpected changes in different portions of the game. This task is often overlooked, for several reasons. Sometimes, when a feature is implemented and tested, it is considered "working" for the rest of the project and little attention is given to repeated testing. Also, features that are added late in development are prioritized and existing features often receive insufficient testing time. Proper regression testing is also increasingly expensive as the number of features increases and is often not scheduled correctly.

Despite the dangers of overlooking regression testing, some game developers and publishers fail to test the full feature suite of the game and ship a game with bugs. This can result in customers dissatisfaction and failure to meet sales goals. When this does happen, most developers and publishers quickly release patches that fix the bugs and make the game fully playable again.


Commercial game development projects may be required to meet milestones set by publisher. Milestones mark major events during game development and are used to track game's progress.[117] Such milestones may be, for example, first playable,[118][119] alpha,[120][121] or beta[121] game versions. Project milestones depend on the developer schedules.[117]

There is no industry standard for defining milestones, and such vary depending on publisher, year, or project.[122] Some common milestones for two-year development cycle are as follows:[117]

First playable

The first playable is the game version containing representative gameplay and assets,[117] this is the first version with functional major gameplay elements[118]. It is often based on the prototype created in pre-production.[119] Alpha and first playable are sometimes used to refer to a single milestone, however large projects require first playable before feature complete alpha.[118] First playable occurs 12 to 18 months before code release.[121]


Alpha is the stage when key gameplay functionality is implemented, and assets are partially finished.[121] A game in alpha is feature complete, that is, game is playable and contains all the major features.[122] These features may be further revised based on testing and feedback.[121] Additional small, new features may be added, similarly planned, but unimplemented features may be dropped.[122] Programmers focus mainly on finishing the codebase, rather than implementing additions.[120] Alpha occurs eight to ten months before code release.[121]

Code freeze

Code freeze is the stage when new code is no longer added to the game and only bugs are being corrected. Code freeze occurs three to four months before code release.[121]


Beta is feature and asset complete version of the game, when only bugs are being fixed.[120][121] This version contains no bugs that prevent the game from being shippable.[120] No changes are made to the game features, assets, or code. Beta occurs two to three months before code release.[121]

Code release

Code release is the stage when all bugs are fixed and game is ready to be shipped or submitted for console manufacturer review. This version is tested against QA test plan. First code release candidate is usually ready three to four weeks before code release.[121]

Gold master

Gold master is the final game's build that is used as a master for production of the game.[123]

Crunch time

Overtime is expected in the games industry.[124] Particularly, crunch time or crunch mode[125] is unpaid overtime requested by many companies to meet project deadlines and milestones[126] that negatively affects game developers[127]. A team missing a deadline risks the danger of having the project cancelled[128] or employees being laid off.[127] Although many companies are reducing the amount of crunch time,[124] it is still prominent in smaller companies[129].

Many companies offer time-off, called comp time or extra paid time-off after product ships to compensate for crunch time's negative effects. Some companies offer bonuses and financial rewards for successful milestone reach.[130] Sometimes on-site crunch meals are offered and delivered to the team during crunch time.[125]

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) surveyed nearly 1,000 game developers in 2004 and produced a report to highlight the many problems caused by bad practice.[r 9]


After the game goes gold and ships, some developers will give team members comp time (perhaps up to a week or two) to compensate for the overtime put in to complete the game, though this compensation is not standard.


Once a game ships, the maintenance phase for the video game begins.[131]

Games developed for video game consoles have had almost no maintenance period in the past. The shipped game would forever house as many bugs and features as when released. This was the norm for consoles since all consoles had identical or nearly identical hardware. In this case, maintenance would only occur in the case of a port, sequel, or enhanced remake that reuses a large portion of the engine and assets.

In recent times popularity of online console games has grown, and online capable video game consoles and online services such as Xbox Live for the Xbox have developed. Developers can maintain their software through downloadable patches. These changes would not have been possible in the past without the widespread availability of the Internet.

The PC development is different. Game developers try to account for majority of configurations and hardware. However, the number of possible configurations of hardware and software inevitably leads to discovery of game-breaking circumstances that the programmers and testers didn't account for.

Programmers wait for a period to get as many bug reports as possible. Once the developer thinks they've obtained enough feedback, the programmers start working on a patch. The patch may take weeks or months to develop, but it's intended to fix most bugs and problems with the game. Occasionally a patch may include extra features or content or may even alter gameplay.

In the case of a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), such as a MMORPG or MMORTS, the shipment of the game is the starting phase of maintenance.[131] Such online games are in continuous maintenance as the gameworld is continuously changed and iterated and new features are added. The maintenance staff for a popular MMOG can number in the dozens, sometimes including members of the original programming team.


Several development disciplines, such as, for example, audio, dialogue, or motion capture, occur for relatively short periods of time. Efficient employment of these roles requires either large development house with multiple simultaneous title production or it requires outsourcing from third-party vendors.[132] Employing personnel for these tasks full-time is expensive.[133] Majority of developers outsource a portion of the work. Outsourcing plans are conceived during pre-production stage; where the time and finances required for outsourced work are estimated.[134]

  • Programming is not usually outsourced. Some modular tools, such as, video compressor or map editor, may be outsourced.[135]
  • The music cost ranges based on length of composition, method of performance (live or synthesized), and composer experience.[136] In 2003 a minute of high quality synthesized music cost between US$600-1.5k.[114] A title with 20 hours of gameplay and 60 minutes of music may have cost $50k-60k for musical score.[115]
  • Voice acting is well suited for outsourcing, it requires a set of specialized skills. Only large publishers employ in-house voice actors.[116]
  • Sound effects can also be outsourced.[112]


The game production has similar distribution methods to those of music and film industries.[29]

The publisher's marketing team targets the game for a specific market and then advertises it.[137] The team advises the developer on target demographics and market trends,[137] as well as suggests specific features[138]. The game is then advertised and the game's high concept is incorporated into the promotional material, ranging from magazine ads to TV spots.[137] Communication between developer and marketing is important.[138]

The length and purpose a game demo depends on the purpose of the demo and target audience. A game's demo may range between a few seconds (such as clips or screenshots) to hours of gameplay. The demo is usually intended for journalists, buyers, trade shows, general public, or internal employees (who, for example, may need to familiarize with the game to promote it). Demos are produced with public relations, marketing and sales in mind, maximizing the presentation effectiveness.[139]

Trade show demo

As a game nears completion, the publisher will want to showcase a demo of the title at trade shows. Many games have a "Trade Show demo" scheduled.[citation needed]

The major annual trade shows are, for example, Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) or Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).[140] E3 is the largest show in North America.[141] E3 is hosted primarily for marketing and business deals. New games and platforms are announced at E3 and it received broad press coverage.[45][142] Thousands of products are on display and press demonstration schedules are kept.[142] In recent years E3 has become a more closed-door event and many advertisers have withdrawn reducing E3 budget.[45] PAX, created by authors of Penny Arcade blog and web-comic, is a mature and playful event with a player-centred philosophy.[29]

Indie development

Independent games or indie games[143] are produced by individuals and small teams with no large-scale developer or publisher affiliations.[143][144][145] Indie developers generally rely on Internet distribution schemes. Many hobbyist indie developers create mods of existing games. Indie developers are credited for creative game ideas (for example, Darwinia, Weird Worlds, World of Goo). Current economic viability of indie development is questionable, however in recent years internet delivery platforms, such as, Xbox Live Arcade and Steam have improved indie game success.[143] In fact, some indie games have become very successful, such as Braid,[r 10] World of Goo,[r 11] or Minecraft.[r 12]

Game industry

The video game industry (formally referred to as interactive entertainment) is the economic sector involved with the development, marketing and sale of video games. The industry sports several unique approaches.


United States

In the United States, in the early history of video game development, the prominent locale for game development was the corridor from San Francisco to Silicon Valley in California.[146] Most new developers in the US open near such "hot beds".[12]

At present, many large publishers still operate there, such as: Activision Blizzard, Capcom Entertainment, Disney Interactive, Eidos Interactive, Electronic Arts, Foundation 9, LucasArts Entertainment, Namco Bandai Games, Sega of America, Sony Computer Entertainment America, THQ. However, due to the nature of game development, many publishers are present in other regions, such as Big Fish Games (Washington), GarageGames (Oregon), Majesco (New Jersey), Microsoft Corporation (Washington), Nintendo of America (Washington), Take-Two Interactive (New York), SouthPeak Interactive (Virginia).[147]

Notable developers in California are: Blizzard Entertainment, Crave Entertainment, Cryptic Studios, Crystal Dynamics, Double Helix Games, Insomniac Games, Koei Corporation North America, Naughty Dog, Neversoft Entertainment, Obsidian Entertainment, Rockstar San Diego, Tecmo. The Washington area houses the following developers: Amaze Entertainment, ArenaNet, Bungie Software, Gas Powered Games, Monolith Productions, PopCap Games, Sucker Punch Productions, Snowblind Studios, Ubisoft Massive/Sierra Entertainment, Valve Corporation. Other developers in the states include: Bethesda Softworks (Maryland), Big Huge Games (Maryland), BreakAway Games (Maryland), Epic Games (Carolina), Firaxis Games (Maryland), id Software (Texas), 2K Boston (Massachusetts), Petroglyph (Nevada), Raven Software (Wisconsin), Red Storm Entertainment (North Carolina), Vicarious Visions (New York),[148] and Irrational Games (Massachusetts).


Many universities and design schools are offering classes specifically focused on game development.[11] Some have built strategic alliances with major game development companies.[149][150] These alliances ensure that students have access to the latest technologies and are provided the opportunity to find jobs within the gaming industry once qualified.[citation needed] Many innovative ideas are presented at conferences, such as Independent Games Festival (IGF) or Game Developers Conference (GDC).

Indie game development may motivate students who produce a game for their final projects or thesis and may open their own game company.[143]


Video game industry employment is fairly volatile, similar to other artistic industries including television, music, etc. Scores of game development studios crop up, work on one game, and then quickly go under.[151] This may be one reason why game developers tend to congregate geographically; if their current studio goes under, they can flock to an adjacent one or start another from the ground up.

In an industry where only the top 5% of products make a profit,[r 13] it's easy to understand this fluctuation. Numerous games may start development and are cancelled, or perhaps even completed but never published. Experienced game developers may work for years and yet never ship a title: such is the nature of the business. This volatility is likely inherent to the artistic nature of games.

See also


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  • Adams, Ernest; Rollings, Andrew (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on game design. New Riders Publishing. ISBN 1-59273-001-9. 
  • Bates, Bob (2004). Game Design (2nd ed.). Thomson Course Technology. ISBN 1-59200-493-8. 
  • Bethke, Erik (2003). Game development and production. Texas: Wordware Publishing, Inc.. ISBN 1-55622-951-8. 
  • Brathwaite, Brenda; Schreiber, Ian (2009). Challenges for Game Designers. Charles River Media. ISBN 1-58450-580-X. 
  • Chandler, Heather Maxwell (2009). The Game Production Handbook (2nd ed.). Hingham, Massachusetts: Infinity Science Press. ISBN 978-1-934015-40-7. 
  • McGuire, Morgan; Jenkins, Odest Chadwicke (2009). Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology. Wellesley, Massachusetts: A K Peters. ISBN 978-1-56881-305-9. 
  • McShaffry, Mike (2009). Game Coding Complete. Hingham, Massachusetts: Charles River Media. ISBN 978-1-58450-680-5. 
  • Moore, Michael E.; Novak, Jeannie (2010). Game Industry Career Guide. Delmar: Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-42837-647-2. 
  • Oxland, Kevin (2004). Gameplay and design. Addison Wesley. ISBN 0-32120-467-0. 
  • Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-19536-4. 
  • Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric (2003). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-24045-9. 

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